Avoid Conflict and Ruin A Relationship
I hate conflict, and any confrontations make me physically stressed out. I usually try to avoid it. However, I know I need to have a talk with someone I love because our conflict is just sitting there and simmering, but I don’t know how to start.
Signed, Conflicted and Stressed
Conflict is often seen as a virus that sucks the life out of you and the ones you love. We all have stories of conflict causing pain and separation—parents who don’t talk to each other, families who no longer get together, work environments that are almost intolerable, and close friends who have drifted apart. Most of us have only experienced conflict as negative, and thus do everything possible to avoid it. It gets such a bad rap that we want to minimize or ignore it, and will pay good money to learn ways to make it go away.
But it does not have to be this way, and in fact avoiding conflict is one of the most successful ways of ruining a relationship. Are there are ways to flip the script on conflict? Since it is a reality we all live with, what can we do to strengthen a relationship while still dealing with the problems?
We begin by accepting the fact that conflict is as natural as it is inevitable. It plays a vital role in all relationships by providing an opportunity to address problem areas. In other words, conflict tells you, “Hey! This needs your attention!”
"...conflict is as natural as it is inevitable. It plays a vital role in all relationships by providing an opportunity to address problem areas. In other words, conflict tells you, 'Hey! This needs your attention!'"
Second, your conflict can help you work on your social intelligence, e.g., understanding how other people work from the inside. It involves our ability to know others, and ourselves, in relationship—and acting wisely in these relationships. One of the key ingredients is being able to listen well. For example, do you know what motivates your roommate or how their different background or perspectives came to be? Can you put yourself in their shoes, or at least be able to really listen and hear their concerns? It doesn’t mean you have to always agree, but that you listen to understand. It is a great skill to develop, and one that will be used in all of your relationships.
In Psalm 139:23-24 the psalmist says “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”
Third, ask yourself, “What are some of my heart issues that are underlying my anxiety over the conflict? Why might this conflict be causing me such angst and stress?” Figure out what hurtful emotions are being brought out in you, and what is it that most worries you. Perhaps the conflict is making you feel misunderstood, or not heard, or not cared for. These deeper heart issues are often the source of our anxiousness, and often hide under the surface—hence the psalmist asking for God to search him.
It takes courage and commitment to flip the script on conflict. But, by using it to dig deeper to get to know yourself and someone else better, you just may find that you not only manage the conflict, but actually grow closer in the process. And that is always healthy.
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.